Saturday, December 12, 2009

Just War

In response to president Obama's Oslo speech, Michael Walzer writes in the New Republic:

"I don’t much like soaring rhetoric; I know there are times to soar, but Obama does it, or tries to do it, every time. Plain speech is also useful, and there was some plain speech in Norway—particularly the reiterated insistence, directed, I think, to our European friends, that sometimes making war is the only way to a just peace. He said this, not once but three or four times, “because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter the cause.” He spoke also about the horrors of war, and said all the right things, but his emphasis was on war’s occasional necessity—and these occasions are probably the most critical ones that political leaders face."

I wondered, when news of President Obama winning the Nobel prize became known, whether he would surprise all the sceptics and pull a Bollinger on the awarding committee. I think his speech, so unexpected in its focus and its ending on the necessity of war, came quite close to it. I enjoyed seeing the look on the face of the chairman of the Peace Nobel committee, looking dumbfounded and clearly unamused.

Another way of looking at it would be to compare it to Mark Anthony's speech:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him;
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones,
So let it be with Caesar ... The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answered it ...
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest,
(For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all; all honourable men)
Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral ...

Just as Antony uses rhetorical irony to persuade the people to go against the conspirators and support him and Caesar's goals, president Obama's speech, while praising the peacemakers, extolled the virtues and necessity of just war. (Blogger's note: Admittedly, this point requires further development, maybe later).

Maybe Obama is fast maturing towards some thoughtful greatness after all. He was telling the Europeans, it's nice to be liked and acknowledged by you, but do not forget who i am, a son of America, not of Europe. I cannot be so flattered by your attentions as to forget what a principle is, what America stands for, or has done for you, and is determined to continue to do.

We'll just have to wait and see.

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